The farm protests have continued despite the government’s offer to amend the laws and address key concerns of agitating groups — except an outright repeal of laws and inserting the guarantee of continued procurement under the minimum support price regime within the law. This newspaper has consistently backed the agrarian reforms, and continues to believe that the protesting farmers would do well to adopt a more flexible approach to the issue. But this does not absolve the government of its duty of continued outreach.
This, indeed, has happened. But along with that, ministers as well as leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have sought to undermine the farm movement, with pejoratives, including by labelling them as the “tukde-tukde gang” — a term that adds little analytical value but has unfortunately been used by the regime to label criticism as anti-national, meant to fragment the country. This is unfortunate. The farm movement — despite the presence of select individuals who harbour extreme identity-based aspirations and the counterproductive role of the diaspora — is a rooted mass movement, which has genuine economic and political concerns. By tarnishing the credibility and motivations of farmers, mostly from Punjab, the government risks deepening the trust deficit and alienating a large segment of the population in this crucial northern border state.
It doesn’t help that the Opposition too ends up responding in a similar manner, with Akali Dal leader — and a BJP ally till not so long ago — Sukhbir Badal calling the BJP the real “tukde tukde gang” and warning against the deepening Hindu-Sikh divide. In a state with a troubled history of communal relations, a discourse that moves from economic anxieties to one about nationalism and communalism will only entrench attitudes and make a compromise difficult. Political competitiveness inevitably leads to crudity in political language. And this has only deepened over the last few years with increased political polarisation. But words have consequences, and can well have serious implications for national unity. The government must stay the course on the laws — but it must do so while sensitively reaching out to farmers to allay their apprehensions, perhaps with a senior minister making a visit to the sites of agitation and engaging in dialogue as a symbolic mark of respect to the movement.